An Unexpected Pet: A Review of ‘Not Norman, A Goldfish Story’

“For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains. I know every bird of the heavens; the creatures of the field belong to me.” (Psalm 50:10-11)

Reading Level

Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts

There is nothing happier than a birthday party with balloons, cake, and presents for an eight year old boy.  Wait!  This present isn’t what the boy wants. It’s a goldfish named Norman, and he wants a very, very different kind of pet. Mentally, the boy quickly checks off all the requirements for his ideal pet. No, he’s sure this fish isn’t what he wants.  He knows that fish are known to have a calming effect on anyone who watches them, but this present – this “pet” – is so far from perfect he decides to trade the goldfish for a good pet as fast as he can.

First, the boy has to get Norman ready for the trade by cleaning his bowl and making him look as good as possible.  Fish are easy to take care of but they do require a “proper environment.”   The responsibility the boy takes by cleaning Norman’s bowl makes a big difference in the way Norman now acts. When he finishes that task he sees that Norman isn’t just swimming in circles any longer, he’s doing dips and flips and blowing bubbles. The boy does not waver from his decision to trade him however even if Norman does make him laugh at his tricks.  He definitely is not going to keep him.

Then, he takes him to school for show and tell with the hope that one of his classmates might want Norman if he does a good job talking about him.  After all a goldfish is a good first pet.  Along the way he meets a friend with a dog and puppies.  The puppies drink half of the water in Norman’s bowl and the boy has to rescue him. Could it be that the boy is learning to care about Norman’s well-being as a concerned pet owner?  During his turn at show and tell no one hears one thing the boy says about Norman because there is unexpected chaos in the classroom.  He sees that Norman is watching him closely, and he thanks Norman for listening.

Later that day, the boy goes to his music lesson. He knows fish are quiet but while playing his tuba he sees Norman sway back and forth and say, “Glug, glug, glug.”  The boy is very excited Norman likes his music, but he is still adamant that he is not going to keep him even if they do share a love of music.

That night the boy hears a scary noise and believes there is something outside his bedroom window.  When he sneaks a peek around his room he sees that Norman isn’t scared.  He looks at the boy and gives him a little wave with his fin.  Suddenly, the boy doesn’t feel so alone and his anxiety actually disappears.  Together they investigate the source of the noise.  The boy thanks Norman for watching out for him.

After all that, the boy still goes to the pet store to trade Norman for his ideal pet the very next morning.  He sees that all the other pets that have the qualities he is looking for are good, but they are Not Norman!

Norman seems to have bonded with the boy from the first meeting.  He simply enjoys the togetherness and tries to interact with the boy using body language, waves, and special attention.   The boy on the other hand doesn’t feel that kinship at first although his actions of taking responsibility for Norman suggest something else.  He begins to see that Norman brings real joy into his life, and the boy feels needed.  Now he wouldn’t trade Norman because he realizes he truly has the companionship of a wonderful, loyal pet. They have finally bonded – a responsible boy and his loyal fish.

Further Discussion

  • Ask your child what he [she] thinks Norman is saying during each situation he shares with the boy.
    • What do you think Norman says when the boy cleans his bowl?
    • What do you think Norman says when the puppies are drinking his water?
    • What song do you think Norman is singing while the boy plays the tuba?
    • What do you think Norman says to the boy when there is scratching at the window?
    • What do you think Norman says when the boy finally takes him home as his pet?
  • Learn the parts of a fish and label them on a simple fish diagram.
  • Eyes, mouth, gills, scales, fins, tail

Catholic Resources


Good St. Francis, you loved all of God’s creatures.
To you they were your brothers and sisters.
Help us to follow your example
of treating every living thing with kindness.
St. Francis, Patron Saint of animals,
watch over my pet
and keep my companion safe and healthy.



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